Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, who championed human rights, freedom, and greater democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has died at the age of 81.

The death of the Congolese cardinal was confirmed by his successor as archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu.

“It is with profound sorrow that I announce to the community of Catholic Christians and all people of goodwill the death of Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo this Sunday, July 11 at Versailles in France,” Ambongo tweeted.

“Let us intensify our prayers for this eternal rest with God He served.”

The DRC is a country of almost 87 million people bordered by the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola. There are an estimated 35 million Catholics, making it the country with the sixth-largest Catholic population in the world.

Monsengwo led the archdiocese of Kinshasa from 2008 until his retirement in November 2018 at the age of 79. The archdiocese serves more than seven million Catholics.

On July 4, Ambongo had invited the faithful to accompany Monsengwo “with our prayers,” explaining that the cardinal’s “health is deteriorating and he is in a critical state,” reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

The cardinal was flown to France for medical treatment days before his death.

Monsengwo was born in Mongobele on Oct. 7, 1939

Ordained a priest in 1963 and then a bishop in 1980, he served as auxiliary bishop of Inongo, auxiliary bishop of Kisangani, archbishop of Kisangani, and finally archbishop of Kinshasa.

In 1991, Monsengwo chaired the Sovereign National Conference, a body that created a framework for the country’s political transition from the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, who had led the country since 1965.

While the process was interrupted by efforts to oust Mobutu, resulting in a protracted civil war, Monsengwo led the Church’s peacemaking efforts through negotiations, leading to the Inter-Congolese Dialogue (2001-2003) that ultimately contributed to the end of civil strife.

Under the cardinal’s leadership, the “influential Catholic Church mediated the Dec. 31, 2016, Saint-Silvestre Peace Accord, which was supposed to have led to the formation of a transitional government, reforms within the electoral commission, and elections by the end of 2017, without [President Joseph] Kabila as a candidate,” the Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported.

During the 2018 crisis occasioned by Kabila’s bid to vie for a third term that was constitutionally prohibited, Monsengwo was described as being highly influential and the most-listened-to voice in the DRC.

He was named a cardinal by Benedict XVI in 2010.

He was one of the original members of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, appointed in 2013. He resigned from the advisory body in October 2018, a month before he stepped down as archbishop of Kinshasa.